Our Blog

where we write about the things we love

09

Oct

Do I need a responsive* website?

The short answer: It depends... Now for the long answer: To ask whether you need a responsive website is to try to decide on tactics before you’ve come up with an overall strategy. Responsive Design is a technique – a way of getting a job done – with certain characteristics that make it more suited to some scenarios than others.

Before you can decide on whether Responsive Design is the right tactic, you need to build your strategy, and you need to know that there is a right time and a not-so-right time for “going responsive”.

Strategy

Your strategy is your overall vision – it comes from your objectives or goals – and describes the sort of techniques you want to employ to achieve those goals. In warfare or sports there are defensive and offensive strategies. In business, there are online and digital strategies that describe how you will engage with your customers, increase sales and save money, and ultimately take business up a notch. No two strategies are the same; they’re tailored to individual business needs, especially in this era of a mass of niche markets. 

Responsive Design describes a method for getting web content onto mobile (and other) devices. So hopefully you've arrived at the Responsive Design question because you've made a strategic decision to embrace mobile/multiple device platforms as a communication or operational channel. The question around Responsive Design, then, can only be asked after the question “Shall we embrace mobile?” has been answered in the affirmative.

Responsive Web Design across multiple screens

 

What questions should I be asking?

At this point, a series of other questions come into play, and these can determine whether you should side with responsive design or some other tactic: 

  • Are we about to build a new website/application from scratch?
  • Have we assessed that all or most of our content is equally valuable to users who are on a mobile as those who are on a desktop or laptop?
  • Is our website largely about consuming content rather than making transactions?

If the answers to the above are yes, then Responsive Design could be the right choice. The ideal time to factor in Responsive Design is during the initial design of a website; it can be expensive to ’retrofit’ an existing design to make it responsive.

Responsive Design means you will largely serve up the same content to users regardless of device, so it has to be equally as important to have all this content to hand whether the user is on a laptop, out and about, or even using their phone in bed. However if your website is predominantly transactional – i.e. it's really an application – then a native application downloadable from an app store may be the better approach for mobility. Consumable content on the other hand – text, images, audio and video – can work well in a Responsive Design.

Alternatives to responsive design

So what are the alternatives? There are a myriad. The common ones include adaptive design (easier to retrofit but requires well-structured content), managing a separately maintained m. Site (easy to implement but painful to maintain), or building a downloadable application (great for frequent users - especially for transactional sites like Internet banking or travel - but not so good for causal visitors).

Responsive design though is great when you are starting fresh with a blank canvas for design. It requires up-front planning and iterative, collaborative design and development, but is beautifully scalable across almost all modern web browsing devices and platforms, from the smallest smartphone to the largest smart TV.

I tend to pick on ’responsive’ because it’s a bit of a buzzword at the moment, but like any of the other digital design tactics out there, it has strengths and weaknesses and when utilised well, it's fantastic. So yes, chances are you need a mobile friendly website, and you could probably do really well using responsive design techniques.

* What is responsive design?

Responsive web design fluidly adapts and resizes elements on the page to suit the size of the screen they are being viewed on. As a result, it generally means designing for a range of devices in parallel, rather than designing a complete solution for desktop then moving on to mobiles and tablets.

Posted by: Brad Gallen, Digital Strategist, Web and Digital Strategy Team. | 09 October 2013

Tags: content management, design, web


Top Rated Posts

Blog archive

Stay up to date with all insights from the Intergen blog